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noun [uncountable]

the activity of stealing tunes or lyrics by downloading them from the Internet and incorporating them into new pieces of music



The concept of bootlegging – making illegal copies of music, computer software, videos etc – has been established for several decades, and the term in fact dates right back to the age of smugglers, who used to conceal stolen bottles of alcohol in their boots! The word bootleg is often used to refer to an illegally recorded CD.

opinions as to whether plagiarhythm constitutes a legitimate activity differ across
the music industry

However, a new development in the same domain has been afforded by the technical possibilities of the last decade. It is now possible to gain general access to electronic files storing original music and lyrics by downloading them from the Internet, files which can then be manipulated and re-mixed to create new pieces of music. The recent coining to describe this as an activity is plagiarhythm, a blend of the noun rhythm and the verb plagiarize, which describes the activity of taking someone else's work and using it as if it were your own. The term plagiarhythmic has also been coined to describe music produced in this way.

Opinions as to whether plagiarhythm constitutes a legitimate activity differ across the music industry. Many record companies dismiss the practice as unoriginal and plain illegal, but the music media have devoted increasing attention to it in the last couple of years, featuring reviews of what are often referred to as mash-ups – 'new' pieces of music which are a conglomeration of other original tunes, lyrics or backing tracks.

Appropriationist music is a generic term for music of this kind, as illustrated in this quote:

'The compilation is based around a loose concept of "appropriationist music", whether it be bootleg mixes and mash-ups of pop hits, stolen and recontextualized sounds from pop culture, or songs that plagiarize elements and phrases from obvious source material. The challenge for the listeners is for them to figure out how it all fits together.'

Matthew Perpetua, Southside Callbox February 2003

Background – plagiarhythm

The term plagiarhythm is said to have been originally coined by Mark Gunderson, a member of the Ohio group Evolution Control Committee. The group has been experimenting with producing appropriationist music since 1991, and in April 2003 re-released a CD entitled Plagiarhythm Nation.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 15th August 2003.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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